Masseria Perugini is a small winery that has its roots in a land of living and uncontaminated nature: Calabria. For a long time this Southern region ranked at the bottom of the winemaking in Italy, but in the last decade it has established itself in the national wine scene for an unprecedented qualitative rebirth. Located in the village of San Marco Argentano (roughly 30 km from the Tyrrhenian seaside) Pasquale Perugini’s farm has been one of the most active in the province of Cosenza since the early twentieth century, with a wide and artisanal production of olive oil, figs, citrus fruits, wheat and flour and for the breeding of sheep.In 1998 it obtained the much sought-after organic certification, a value in which Masseria Perugini strongly believes, considering it a tool to communicate to the final consumer the estate’s environmental responsibility and sustainable development.
This is a key year for Masseria Perugini when Pasquale decided that the time has come for the estate to start producing and bottling its own wine, finally leaving forever the common practice to sell the grapes to the neighboring estates. The local grapes Mantonico, Malvasia (whites), Magliocco, Greco Nero and Guarnaccino (reds) are pretty attractive and for all the vineyard management and the winemaking Giampiero Ventura and Daniela De Marco have been appointed. A relatively young couple aiming to produce pure natural wines. Furthermore in the same year Pasquale decided to invest in tourism by offering rural accommodations to tourists visiting this secluded area near the Mount Pollino. The management of the 5 hectares of vineyards is Giampiero’s job, while his partner Daniela is a modern enologist refusing the raw power of technology over authenticity. In the vineyards Masseria Perugini skips any synthetic chemicals or pesticides and the harvest is done manually. Sheep are free to roam among the vines till April providing a natural compos and fertilizer. In the cellar, the vinification starts from spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, avoiding filtration and clarification and other useless invasive practices (adding color, enzymes, protein, liquid tannins, etc). According to the vintage Masseria Perugini wines are bottled with or without added sulfites. If sulfites are needed overall the total sulfites are always below 30 mg / liter. The estate productions is pretty limited with only 15.000 yearly bottles. 5 years after Giampiero and Daniela have joined Pasquale Perugini in this project, the results are pretty relevant: the estate exports to different markets (the most important is Japan) and national sales have thrived with the help of Arkè, one of the leading indie distribution companies. The estate is a proud member of Vinnatur and attends other alternative natural wine fairs like VAN (Vignaioli Artigiani naturali) and La Terra Trema. The winery is in the process to obtain the official organic certification, although the practices are well beyond the organic protocol, sometimes bottling wines with no added sulfites. Masseria Perugini is located in a living area, definitely rich in terms of biodiversity, geographically between the Sila and Pollino National Parks. This is a hilly district with an elevation oscillating from 200 and 400 meters above sea level, where the soil is predominantly marked by clay and limestone and winds are always present refreshing the valley. More specifically the Pollino Mountain is Italy’s largest national park, home to terrific mountains and shared by the regions of Calabria and Basilicata with Serra Dolcedorme as the highest peak at 2.267 mts; the forested Savuto valley rises amidst the Sila mountain range and divulges 30 miles of fresh river water to into the salty sea; calm coastal towns straddle either the Tyrrhenian or Ionian Seas and make brilliant white, rose’ and red wines The climate in Calabria changes with regard to location. Along the sea, temperatures are warm. The farther up in the mountains you go, it gets colder. At either end of the spectrum, problems can arise for grape vines. Too much heat isn’t good, while on the other hand, frost has been known to wipe out entire crops. The area at the foothills of the Pollino is one of the freshest for sure. Overall this corner of Calabria hasn’t felt the impact of any medium or heavy industry and the population’s density is one of the lowest in all Italy.
Only recently has Calabria regained some of its former recognition, but there is much more to be reclaimed. Just think that a mere 2% of its total land is used for viticulture!
Calabria has 12 DOC wines but the region’s wine making future is perhaps to be found somewhere else. Interestingly, Calabria has more IGT wines than DOC. The broader regulations governing IGT production and enhanced possibilities might point to the region’s future. Worth keeping an eye on. Well … Steep Hill, as an importer, has often paid attention more to the estates’ quality production rather than the status or the appellation of origin itself.
The current wine production is driven by locals who have proudly decided against moving away for economic opportunity in Northern Italy and elsewhere in Europe. They have stayed to create something to call their own.
It’s not uncommon that many casual wine lovers associate this Southern region with so many coastal km to white wines: well, it’s just the opposite. Being in the far south, at the toe of Italy’s boot, the warm, dry climate and hills with volcanic soil are ideal for producing dark, full-bodied red wines with high tannins. Approximately 90% of the wines from this region are red wines, although the number of new vines planted with white varieties is rapidly increasing.
The most common varietal in Calabria is the Gaglioppo grape, the primary grape used to produce Cirò, most likely the only wine from the region with appreciable international familiarity. Cirò usually presents a translucent cherry color, a vibrant nose with salty elements and rose petals with the palate coherent with the nose and often displaying minerality, freshness and some grainy tannins.
“The Cirò Revolution” is a club of artisanal winemakers with brilliant ideas that led the Calabrian wine renaissance a decade ago aiming to protect the true essence of Gaglioppo. The political quarrel started in 2008 with the appellation’s board system and it has been pretty loud with the members fighting against the potential introduction of other varieties in order to soften the Gagliopp presence in the Cirò DOC.
Led by Francesco Maria De Franco (A’ Vita) and Cataldo Calabretta, the Club set an example to other young and vibrant wine projects located elsewhere in the region. Nowadays viticuture is pretty attractive to an increasing number of young kids with a soft spot for organic viticulture and minimal-intervention winemaking . They represent and respect their territory’s identity by making artisanal wines, as their families always have, with native grape varieties.
Beside Gaglioppo, other commonly used reds from Calabria include Nerello Mascalese, Nerello Cappuccio, Greco Nero, Magliocco and Marsigliana. None of these grapes are as well-known as the Nebbiolo grape that is used in producing the fine Italian Barolo, but these grapes make great wines in their own rite. Because Calabria is historically among the most rural and least industrialized regions of Italy, the export market is relatively undeveloped, and most wine makers produce and distribute their wines locally.
Calabria’s wine is experiencing a great moment. A new patrol of young producers has understood that the only approachable strategic path was to make wines in tune with their own history, starting from preserving the local varieties and, when possible, the old vineyards. For years we have recorded clumsy attempts to “control” the winemaking, with interventionist policies in the cellar in order to market easier and predictable “approved” products. All this is gone forever, eventually.
Today many people are convinced that the region’s viticulture diversity is essential. The other important element that we are witnessing among this fresh club of young winemakers is an honest and frank desire to collaborate and share experiences, something that hasn’t seen before. Respect and cooperation are the two keywords of the Calabrian wine of the near future.
Masseria Perugini is part of this club and is an awesome authentic example of natural winemaking in the Pollino district, north of Cosenza.
Steep Hill is proudly introducing in the NY market two wines from this estate made with the local heroes Malvasia, Mantonico and Magliocco. Bifaro 2019: From the back label: “The fruit sourced comes from a vineyard planted in 1998 on limestone soil with MALVASIA (80%) and MANTONICO (20%) varieties, both with an ancient background in northern Calabria. The hilly vineyard sits at 450 meters above sea level between the Ionian sea and the Tyrrhenian sea at the foot of Mount Pollino. The vineyards’ practices are carried out respecting the almighty nature, preferring the manual management and avoiding any use of pesticides and herbicides. We use our beloved sheep in order to take care of the excess of grass and the only treatments in the vineyard are based on sulfur and copper in very low quantities. In the cellar, we avoid any unnecessary manipulations and all our wines are fermented only with the indigenous yeast. The grapes are hand harvested in small bins of 20 kg during mid October. 60 days of skin contact followed by a soft pressing. Fermentation takes place in cement tanks where the wine, after the racking, continues to age for 5 months on the fine lees. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, this artisanal wine can throw some sediments. No added sulfites. 12% AbV. Total production: 2.500 bottles per year”. VIVAVI’ 2018: From the back label: “The fruit sourced comes from a vineyard planted in 1995 on clay soil with the red autochthonous. MAGLIOCCO variety from northern Calabria, in the Cosenza province. The hilly vineyard sits at 300 meters above sea level between the Ionian sea and the Tyrrhenian sea at the foot of Mount Pollino. The vineyards’ practices are carried out respecting the almighty nature, preferring the manual management and avoiding any use of pesticides and herbicides. We use our beloved sheep in order to take care of the excess of grass and the only treatments in the vineyard are based on sulfur and copper in very low quantities. In the cellar, we avoid any unnecessary manipulations and all our wines are fermented only with the indigenous yeast. The grapes are hand harvested in small bins of 20 kg during the 2nd part of October. Fermentation takes place in concrete vats where the wine, after the racking, continues to age for 10 months on the fine lees. Bottled unfined and unfiltered, this artisanal wine can throw some sediments. No added sulfites. Total production: 5.000 bottles per year.
In a nutshell